Medical professionals talk about drug-addicted babies

One baby is born in the U.S. every hour addicted to either prescription or non-prescription drugs. That’s what a University of Michigan study recently found. The frequency of births of drug-addicted babies has also been on the rise in the Upper Peninsula.

The Marquette General Hospital neonatal intensive care unit helps welcome many young lives into the world, but an increasing number of those young lives begin with drug addictions that were passed along during pregnancy. The Superior Health Foundation says 67 opiate-addicted babies were born at MGH in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available. That’s a nearly 400% increase from five years earlier, when 14 such babies were born there.

“I started (at the NICU) in (1996), and I think we weren’t fully aware of what was out there,” Marquette General NICU registered nurse Jamie Skewis said. “I think we’re more aware of the problem.”

Staff members at the NICU look for several major types of symptoms. “We look at how long the babies are crying,” Skewis said. “Can we console them? We also look to see how long they’re sleeping. Are they having seizure activity, which would be the most serious (symptom) in the central nervous system? We look to see if these babies have temps, 99.1 or higher. These babies do a lot of sweating. You look to see if their respirations are over 60 (per minute), they’re having respiratory distress.”

“Most symptoms don’t manifest until after day of life number 5,” MGH NICU medical director Dr. Julia Frei said. “In terms of the other gastrointestinal symptoms, if you can imagine a colicky baby and you multiply that by 500 times, that is a baby who is going through withdrawal.”

The NICU uses the Finnegan scoring system to determine severity of withdrawal symptoms. A low score means aggressive therapy is not needed. “We try to keep them in a quiet, dark room,” Skewis said. “We swaddle the babies. We offer pacifiers before they really start crying and really fussing, because once you get them going, it’s hard to calm them down.”

A high Finnegan score means morphine, methadone or phenobarbital will be needed.